Monday, May 01, 2006

Humor in a homily

My homily yesterday (no need to scroll down; click here to see the whole thing)included a part that was humorous. I've noted how a couple of ad-libs and some of my body language emphasized this:

I know when they’re infants,
they don’t always do well at Mass—
as one parent put it, they have "meltdowns"!

Sometimes, other sets of eyes
turn like laser beams!

[I swung my eyes around like laser beams]

But let me say this to anyone
who is distracted:
If you’re distracted at Mass,
it’s not the baby’s fault—
it’s not the parent’s fault.
It’s your fault!

We do our best;
yes, it’s considerate
to turn our phones to silent;
but we can’t turn off babies!

But, if you want Mass without these things?
Don’t come!
[I waved my arms as if to say, everyone leave]
Only when this church is empty
of people will that happen!

So, instead, here’s some practical advice.
You’re at Mass, and there’s a noise;
Don’t look:
[I lowered my head, using my hands as shields around my face.]
don’t think about it;
just go right back to praying.
I guarantee you’ll forget about it.

[I added here: "Because that's what I do!" with a smile.]
You know what the true distraction is?
Not what happens over there,
but here, in our heads!
It’s what we start thinking right afterward.

[Here, with a whiny voice and a pinched expression, I mimicked someone fussing, "I don't know why she...myeh, myeh myeh!"]

So, parents, don’t hold back
from bringing the little ones.

Now, the whole homily did not feature this use of humor -- I would say, this was the middle third. It began and ended on a serious note. I don't often attempt humor in a homily, although I find it happens when I don't expect it, with an ad lib -- such as when I ask a server to get me some water -- or just when something I said strikes folks as funny and I didn't realize it would.

Anyway, I offer this for your thoughts, because I've noticed on some sites a great deal of upset from Catholic faithful when their priests use humor in a homily. I have my reasons, and I will share them if anyone pursues this.

I imagine some will post comments saying they like this, and that's fine; but I am especially interested in comments from those who disagree.


Chucko said...

Well, I hate to agree but... :)
Actually, I think the use of humor in a homily is more appreciated when it's used sparingly. This makes it a refreshing change once in a while. I recall one priest in particular, whose name I cannot remember unfortunately, that dropped one liners for almost his entire homily. I don't appreciate this.

Regarding your specific homily however, I do disagree. If a baby acts up once or twice during Mass, it does not bother me. If a baby continues to act up loudly, and the parent does not have enough respect for those around them to take the child to the "crying room" or back of the church, it bothers me a lot. This however, does not irritate me nearly as much as children who are old enough to know better acting up, and the parents doing nothing about it. When I was growing up, several times during Mass if a child was acting up the priest would simply stop altogether until the child was brought under control. This is, of course, a bit extreme.

Layla said...

I think this use of humor was a great way to get across an important idea.

I've struggled in the past with letting myself get distracted by fussy children at Mass. One day a thought came to me that stopped that: roughly a third of the post-Roe generation has been aborted. If you are in Mass and hear a baby crying or a little kid squirming around or some such, that's one life that was not stopped before birth, AND their parents brought them to Mass. We should think of that as a blessing, not a distraction.

Layla said...

Wow, I just scrolled down to see that you actually addressed the same topic I commented about a little further down the page. Sorry for the repetition! :)

(Again on the humor thing; I think it's great. We're Catholics; we're not supposed to be dour!)

Fr Martin Fox said...

Chucko, Layla:

About the "noisy kids/noisy people at Mass" thing . . .

I am all for as much quiet as I can have at Mass, and I think everyone should help. Some factors are obviously easier to deal with than others, small children being more difficult. But they should be there.

I didn't say anything about walking to the back, or the vestibule (we have no cry room, thank heaven!), because I doubt my saying that would actually do any good -- the folks who need to do it, won't hear that as applying to them, or they'll hear it as they shouldn't come; whereas the folks who would see that as sensible are already doing it, so no need to say it.

Much more serious is the problem of parents not bringing their kids at all. So a homilist chooses something to emphasize.

The other thought is, as much as we should aim for the ideal, we have to realize its almost always beyond reach, and it is a little Platonic -- i.e., it barely exists, if at all! You keep it in view as a benchmark.

Deacon Jim said...

He openned the scriptures to them...

That's what a homily is about. There are many ways to get there, theology, humor, everyday life, examples from the communion of saints, etc.

The problem is when humor is not genuine, when it’s contrived. Some borrow humor to be humorous or because they can't tell a joke to 'save their lives'. Some do it because they think – hey they’ll like me. Humor for those reasons falls flat. Too many of us do that and it turns people off.

Humor works when it comes from our shared experience. It all goes to achieving a unity of community.

I am lousy at jokes – better at self deprecation. If it fits and works it’s ok – for the purpose of ‘cracking open the scriptures’. If it doesn’t we should leave the humor at home.

Yours works – it comes from shared experience.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like your humor was very appropriate. Especially, the whinny adult.

I feel sorry for the folks who can't laugh at church. We are human, and we do things that are funny. God must have a sense of humor; He invented us.

mrsdarwin said...

I don't mind humor in a homily as long as it's not sports-related. Ugh.

When one of my daughters was baptized, the deacon ended the ceremony not with the sign of the cross, but with the exhortation "Go Lakers!", to the laughter of the assembled crowd. Ha ha. I don't know whether or not the Lakers "went" (probably, because everyone was driving around with little Lakers flags on their cars that summer), but we were not amused.

Anonymous said...

I sometimes attend a noontime daily Mass frequented by a number of large, homeschooling families. The church is old and has no cry room. One day, a toddler was running back and forth in back of the church, making lots of noise, and kept it up for at least five or ten minutes, right up to the consecration. The celebrant got up to "This is my body" and then stopped. The child stopped making noise, and he continued the prayer. A minute later, she started running again, and then he looked directly out to the congregation and said "Please take that child out NOW."
You could have heard a pin drop, and the running stopped.
I think some parents live with so much bedlam at home that they honestly forget that some behavior is not acceptable at Mass.

Gregaria said...

I really liked Deacon Jim's comments. The right kind of humor at the right time is a good thing!

Mike the Geek said...

I certainly hauled my daughter out of church a number of times when she was little. I don't think people should stay home because they have babies, but if the babies are really getting fussy, most churches have some kind of holding tank - I mean "cry room" - or you can always walk out the door for a while. Common courtesy - just like not breast feeding during the peace or changing diapers at the epiclesis.

My curmudgeonly pet peeve is far less with babies than with kids who are clearly old enough to know better and whose parents think their disruptive and disrespectful behavior is cute and want to share it with the rest of us. When those kids get older, I am sure they will not find the same permissiveness during services in the prison chapel (where they are likely to find themselves once they hit 18).

Anonymous said...

Two points I'd like to make. One is that I use humor in my preaching, but not every time. The priest who taught my advanced homiletics class told us to mix our homilies up, some serious, some humorous, to keep from becoming predictable. I thought that was good advice and try to follow it.

If, when I was a lay person and my kids were small, if any priest told me to "take that child out NOW" I would have done exactly that and would never have returned. Remember what Jesus told the Apostles when they tried to shoo the children away.

Sparki said...

I dig the humor in your homily because it was (a) realistic and (b) your main point was not "Hey, look how funny I am!"

I also like what you had to say about kids in Mass. It is less of a struggle for us since our youngest turned 2, but we've had our moments. I have taken my kids out LOTS of times, but the goal is to teach them how to worship, and you can't do that in the cry room or in the hall or down in the parish hall or whatever. Our pastor has always said that the cry room is to be used only for a few minutes when a child is fussing, not for the entire Mass.

And I have to say, every time I've felt my kids were enormously poorly behaved and I just want to sink into a hole and die of embarrassment, without fail some little old lady will stop me on the way out and tell me how happy she was to have my kids at Mass. I don't know if the altar society trains old ladies to do this or what, but it's awfully nice!

Fr Martin Fox said...

deacon mike:

I was taught the very same thing, about trying different styles; which I try to do.